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  • Introduction
  • Michael Hunter (bio)

over the past two decades, the visual dimension of science—the use of pictures for descriptive purposes, or to assist in classification or interpretation—has come to be of absorbing interest to historians. Yet it is slightly ironic that the period that is often seen as pivotal in the emergence of modern science—the age of the earliest scientific institutions, of Hooke, Newton, and Ray—has received relatively less attention than either the period that went before or those that followed. It is not least for this reason that the conference entitled “Curiously Drawn,” held at the Royal Society on June 21–22, 2012, was so timely, and it is equally appropriate that the papers presented at it should now be made available in published form as a special issue of the Huntington Library Quarterly.

A brief survey of recent work on this aspect of science will illustrate the extent to which the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the years to which this issue is devoted, have been neglected by comparison with both earlier and later periods. As far as the former is concerned, I might start by referring to the crucial work that Sachiko Kusukawa has done over many years on scientific illustration in the sixteenth century, initially on the botanical images produced by Leonhard Fuchs, Conrad Gessner, and others, and then on anatomical illustration, particularly by Vesalius.1 All of this came to [End Page 141] a climax with her 2012 book, Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany, which, apart from being beautifully produced and illustrated, is quite a tour de force in its coverage of the subject.2 It provides much telling information about the logistics of publishing works of this kind and is full of profound observations about the objectives of their compilers and the disagreements that emerged as to how these were best achieved. It ends with important remarks about the “heterogeneity [that] separates the sixteenth century from later periods,” thus raising significant issues about the standards that were to come into being from the seventeenth century onward.3

If we extend the period under consideration to about 1650, there has again been a considerable amount of important work. In terms of astronomical illustration, pioneering research carried out by Albert van Helden and Mary Winkler has shown how, at the hands of Galileo, Christoph Scheiner, and Johannes Hevelius, a new “visual language” of astronomy emerged.4 Their work has now been built on by the recent Cambridge project “Diagrams, Figures and the Transformation of Astronomy, 1450–1650,” the workshops organized by which have also ranged more widely in the types of scientific illustration to which attention has been paid.5 In terms of natural historical illustration in the same period, there is David Freedberg’s almost viscerally exciting book, The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History (2002), a wonderful evocation of the efforts of Federico Cesi and his friends and the profuse botanical and zoological images that they produced.6 Related topics are dealt with in the first part of Janice Neri’s work, The Insect and the Image: Visualizing Nature in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1700 (2011), while another important development was the major exhibition put on in the United States in 2011, Prints and the Pursuit of [End Page 142] Knowledge in Early Modern Europe.7 This was memorialized by an extraordinarily lavish illustrated catalogue edited by Susan Dackerman and accompanied by a conference on related topics held at Harvard. This too focused mainly on the period up to the early seventeenth century, celebrating body charts, celestial atlases, maps, and botanical and zoological works by Adriaen Collaert and other artists. And it is worth mentioning yet another recent book that has a comparable chronological focus, the English edition of Volker Remmert’s study of the engraved title pages to scientific works, published in 2011 as Picturing the Scientific Revolution, which thus made available to an English readership Remmert’s important study, first published in German under the auspices of the Herzog August Bibliothek at Wolfenbüttel in 2005.8...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-399X
Print ISSN
0018-7895
Pages
pp. 141-155
Launched on MUSE
2016-02-24
Open Access
No
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